Is there really a choice?

I’ve spent the past year and four months (with a one month lapse in New Zealand) under the Victorian and Australian parliamentary system. I’ve had to brush up on my Sophomore year political knowledge for sure. In that year of high school in Chicago, at least if you are on the “university” track, one studies European history which would include a few lessons on England’s current system of government. Australia is not that far off in their structure of houses, organization of parties and selection of ministers. Well, except for one small detail…voting is compulsory down under.

Australia as my flatmate Michael likes to remind me started as a service state to the crown. It is true when one thinks of convicts and criminals being sent to the South Hemisphere for “detention” if you will. Between the years of 1788 and 1868 over 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia with the majority being larcenists. Convicts provided a viable labor alternative in place of slavery. And generally those chosen to make the voyage were skilled tradesmen or farmers convicted of petty crimes. Those crafty Poms. The generations to come continued to serve the motherland by cultivating the resources and colonizing all of the continent. In fact even today the Queen of England is still the head of state but only as a figure head. Thus, it’s not that far off that Australian adapted a parliamentary system in forming it’s Commonwealth the first of January, 1901 considering in many regards they still answered to the queen.

No history lesson now but we need to look back a bit to better understand the present. It wasn’t until 1924 that a senator from the ol’ Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) by name of Herbert Payne proposed a bill requiring enrolled voters to cast a ballot. In the 1922 Australian Federal Election the voter turnout held just under 60%, but after the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1924 it had increased to 91%. And yes citizens over 18 are “required” to enroll to vote, so there is really no way around it.

I can cast a number of argument on both sides of compulsory voting. For instance turnout to polls in industrial countries with non-compulsory voting has steadily decreased since World War II. *1 While in Australia and other compulsory voting nations voter turnout has remained consistently high. Another argument pro is that compulsory voting does not actually violate any sort of civil liberties because a voter can vote “none of these candidates.” So while you are “required” to show up to vote you are not required to actually vote for anyone.

Adversely, two main points I deducted and found ring true to me. First is people choose to be non-voters for many different reasons. Perhaps some are uneducated or just uninterested or just lazy. But by requiring them to “vote” speculates that they will make the decision they really want and serve their country at the same time. And while one can cast a “donkey” vote (a vote the way candidates appear on the ballot paper) that voter is even further from the idea of true democracy.

Secondly, the right NOT to vote is far from trivial. The right to abstain from casting a  vote (educated at that) represents ideas far greater then the actual vote itself. These being the government is for the benefit of the people it governs; and the rights of these people are suppose to inherently differ from those that govern. Once choice is taken away (even abstaining) a democracy exist no longer.

Fines, fines and more fines…

…are what you are billed when you “elect” not to vote.  Check out this link to the Australian Electoral Commission website. So the offense for not voting in a Australian federal election is currently AUS$20. And if you refuse to pay it you could get AUS$50 fine and court costs on top. Hmmm… In the state Victoria where I reside, if you cast no ballot it’ll cost ya AUS$61 plus AUS$20 if it gets to a penalty. WHAT?

And I am sure what follows you is a ton of postage from the Commission every time you do not cast a ballot; which costs all taxpayers more money. More postage equals use of more resources in a quickly deteriorating world. Can Australians vote to change that?

Generally no…which is the irony. Because the only way that public could vote to repeal compulsory voting is if a bill is composed in the lower house and passed through the Senate (Upper house).

So what if they made it…

…reward based? That’s right, reward voting eligible citizens FOR voting instead of penalizing them for not voting. I feel a slight tax credit would do nicely. One can calculate how much credit to administer for the first election utilizing this method by taking the cost of all time spent following up on people who did not vote in the previous. This cost would include all time spent by government employees and overhead costs (such as paperwork and postage) chasing people down. My guess is that voter turnout will still decrease saving the government money in credits.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there were approximately 17 million people of working age and older (15 years old-up) in 2007. In all likelihood there are closer to 20 million working age people now in 2012.  Let’s be conservative and cut 1.5 million of that total for the ages of 15-18 and say there are 18.5 million age eligible voters in Australia. Surely you can cut a decimal of a percentage point of income tax from those who vote. And if you really felt you bias towards the upper class in this instance then give a flat monetary reward across the board.

Australia has a vast land, brilliant and colorful people and unique history to it’s credit. I find that more and appreciate it as each day passes. And the government (as with any) has had good and poor point over the years. But overall very admirable…that is something I would CHOOSE to vote for.

*1 Forgive me but wiki had the best break down: Voter turnout

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.